22 October, 2007

The I-Man Is Back—So Should You Advertise With Him?

There’s been a lot of buzz over the past couple weeks that former CBS radio host Don Imus will be returning to the airwaves before the end of the year. My first instinct was, who on earth will advertise with him? The guy was fired practically at the drop of hat. Although, it was a very large, loud hat. But it quickly dawned on me that if ABC is going to give Imus a multi-million dollar contract, they have to believe there will be advertisers.

So I conducted a brief poll among coworkers, friends, players on my kickball team (seriously) and my dad. The questions were as follows:

1) Do you have a problem with this?
2) As a company or agency would you recommend/not recommend advertising on his new show?

The response was, as you’d guess, mixed. Several respondents chose to use the term “ass,” “jacksass,” “pompous ass,” or “talentless ass.” But only four out of twenty had a problem with his return to the airwaves.Those responding who didn’t have a problem with his return (including one woman who noted he was a “jackass in a cowboy hat”) cited issues such as freedom of speech, that he’s sorry and has paid his price, or the fact that he has an audience that wants to hear him, even if the respondents weren’t fans of his show, themselves. Five said they would not recommend advertising on Imus. Four said they would have no problem advertising with Imus. And the remaining eleven said they’d take a wait-and-see approach, or it would completely depend on their product.

First off, I’m not here to address the morality of advertising on Imus. I’m looking at whether or not it is worth a) losing potential customers who dislike the controversial DJ radio personality and b) if you’ll get a substantial return on your investment with Imus. And I should also note that I listened to Imus on occasion more than a decade ago, but have never been a fan.

So, the first thing you have to look at is—who buys your product?
If your audience is people who are connected, culturally aware and racially sensitive, it is doubtful they are fans of Imus, and upon hearing you are advertising with the talk jock may seek to boycott your product—giving you bad press and possibly causing your sales to drop. But there’s one company who obviously isn’t worried about this reaction—ABC. And ABC is owned by Disney! Apparently they expect the Happiest Place on Earth to remain unscathed throughout any upcoming ordeal.

On the other hand, this same audience may be carefully scrutinizing Imus, eagerly awaiting his next misstep, and that means more ears tuning in and hearing your advertising. To quote Howard Stern’s Private Parts,

“The average radio listener listens for eighteen minutes. The average Howard
Stern fan listens for…an hour and twenty minutes…Answer most commonly given? ‘I want to see what he'll say next.’…The average Stern hater listens for two and a
half hours a day…Most common answer? ‘I want to see what he'll say next.’”

Furthermore, when Imus first returns to the air, ratings will probably be higher than when he went off the air. People who weren’t even fans of the show will tune in to see if they’ll hear more of what got Imus tossed out of his studio in the first place. The first few months will be the best time to advertise on Imus, and possibly during the next NCAA tournament.

And don’t forget about his returning fans. Imus was syndicated on 61 different radio stations across the country. He obviously had an audience, and I guarantee this audience will have their radio dials set for the second Imus returns. Despite all of its foibles, my experience has been that talk radio fans are very loyal.
Unless you’re worried about a massive backlash—and I mean a massive backlash—you’d be foolish not to advertise on Imus—if he fit your product’s demographic. Because even the people you’re worried about pissing off will still be tuning in to see what he says, to find another reason to hate him. If you have a product for the masses, you should be advertising on Imus, because when he returns to the air, the masses will be listening. You might even ask for a discount as one of the first advertisers to support his return.

And as a fellow Renegade blogger told me, “Generally people have a short memory for controversy.” Truly, the issue shot up, he was fired, there were press conferences, he apologized, and within only a few weeks the majority of the media had moved on.

Now I can respect a company for sticking to its moral guns. Your image can be nearly as important as your products. If you feel advertising on Imus will negatively affect your company’s image or you feel you have a moral obligation to not advertise with someone you feel is a racist, by all means, don’t. However, I might note to the public that you are purposely choosing not to advertise with Imus and why, to remind people where you stand on these sensitive issues.

It will be a controversial topic when he returns to the air, but people pay attention to controversy, even if only for a few weeks.

Captain Awesome, Project Specialist

What's your take on the issue? Think Imus will have a problem attracting advertisers? Care to venture any guesses as to the brands most likely to give him a shot? Drop us a comment!

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